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Clear Lake museum features rare WWII-era electric trike

WWII memorabilia
Posted at 4:45 PM, Jul 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-24 17:45:08-04

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa (AP) — Kinney Pioneer Museum recently received a rare piece of WWII memorabilia.

The museum was gifted a 1942 custom electric trike, built by Henry Peterson, who designed and built the trike to help beat rationed gas during WWII when families were allotted only two gallons of gas each week.

The trike, which was restored by Henry’s son Bob Peterson of Cedar Falls in 2005, uses a 1912 Dodge generator and a custom-built cross-drive shaft with differential gears, and reached speeds of up to 19 miles per hour.

The Mason City Globe Gazette reports the trike was ridden from 1942 until 1945, taking Peterson a mile and a half into work and back each day.

After the war, Henry took the trike apart and put it at the top of the garage. Not long afterward, a young Bob Peterson took that trike down and put it back together with a gas engine on it. He said rode that trike around all summer, leaving leg-powered trikes in the dust.

When Bob got to junior high, the elder Peterson took the trike apart and hid it, where it remained for 60 years. Bob hadn’t expected to see it again, but after his parents died in 2005, he went through the estate.

The very last place he cleaned out was a crawlspace in the basement.

“I looked and saw the rear frame. Then I saw the drive, then the generator. And I said ‘I’m gonna restore it.’” Bob restored the trike, and found the original hand-powered battery charger sitting on a shelf in the garage. It hadn’t moved in over 60 years.

The trike made several publications throughout the years. Globe Gazette published a story about its restoration in 2005, and national magazine Popular Science included the trike in a 1945 publication.

More than 15 years after its restoration, Bob brought the trike from Cedar Falls to the Kinney Pioneer Museum, where it was given its last ride. Henry Peterson had been an active member of the museum board, making the stained glass window near where his trike sits.

“The bike belongs here,” said Bob, when asked whether donating the trike was a bittersweet moment. “I told Kay, the director, that if my dad was here today, he’d have a bigger smile on my face than I do. He’d be having even more fun than we did.”

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